Tag Archives: preventive policing


I came across this UCLA Medical School Commencement Address by Dr Atul Gawande. Reading through it, I was struck by the solutions it offers for India’s current problems of rather frequent instances of violence on doctors in hospitals. The solution comes from the speaker’s philosophical thinking. I was also struck by the mission level commonality between the practice of medicine and practice of policing.

The first principle of the practice of medicine is that saving the life of any patient should be equally important to the treating doctor. Dr Gawande acknowledges that practitioners do not always live up to the principle. It is also the first principle of the practice of law enforcement- that there should be no distinction when acting upon complaints of persons from different social status. However, like in medical practice, but more so in policing, this principle is still only a goal to be achieved.

He mentions hospitals as places where you encounter the whole span of society-everyone, irrespective of position and means, needs medical care. Similar are the police stations- everyone needs good law enforcement work by police and the person’s position and means should be irrelevant for police when dealing with a victim or perpetrator of crime. Dr Gawande observes that US has a high incarceration rate ( currently 7 million people) and many of those incarcerated are blacks or the mentally ill and further, that 30% of the country’s adults carry a criminal arrest record! These figures are an eye opener about the unending circular link between poverty, social disadvantage and crime.

Impacting the nation’s economic growth and widely dispersing the benefits of better growth are not in the hands of the police but one of the significant fallouts of poverty and inequality is higher crime- which is fully a police responsibility. Poverty and inequality are two factors whose outcome is more crime in society. How then can the police cope with the hard problem of crime due to poverty and inequality?

Dr Gawande provides the solution for the medical fraternity- doctors need to be open to recognising the common core of humanity in each individual and develop curiosity for understanding what it feels like to be in the other’s shoes. In short, if doctors develop their capacity to empathise, it will help people dealing with doctors overcome their anger and fear through which they often act violently. I especially liked the way Dr Gawande expresses this ‘Once we lose the desire to understand-to be surprised, to listen and bear witness-we lose our humanity.’

What is in this solution which is beneficial for policing? Treating the especially vulnerable populations with understanding and respect means creating a more level playing field for access to justice. And what can cause this better understanding and respect? To my mind, it would be preventive policing through appropriate community policing schemes. It is therefore very important to nudge police activities in the direction of preventive policing through community policing. And a nudge which works here is the budgetary funding which government can provide for community policing schemes and supervised through performance audits of such schemes.

Can Preventive Policing be a Strategy for Police?

AIbEiAIAAABDCNHI9JDL38HrYSILdmNhcmRfcGhvdG8qKGRmZjM3Y2IyNGFiNzVkYTE5Y2QxOWM5YjVjZDg5YzZhODkzY2FhYmYwAeb12e_1DLWxFoaTlOyiwl7aGBdwThere have been many projects in preventive policing at the initiative of individually motivated officers in India.  In Maharashtra, these efforts have been seen for maintaining peace in areas which were frequently communally disturbed (like the  Peace Committees which were formalized as Mohalla Peace Committees by Mr Suresh Khopde, the  DCP of the area in 1988, after studying the 1984 Bhiwandi communal riots. Similarly, the Mohalla Committee Movement Trust came into being after the Mumbai riots of 1992 with the thought initiative of senior police officers like Mr Julio Ribiero and Mr Satish Sahney ), or for generally reducing levels of social tensions in rural Maharashtra, due to unresolved complaints, as in the Gram Tanta-Mukti Program started in 2007, for making villages resolve their non cognizable complaints(these are complaints which by law do not have ingredients for lodging an FIR under which police have legal powers to investigate) as well as compoundable cognizable complaints(these are complaints which have offences described under the law for police to conduct an investigation, but which can be voluntarily settled by the warring parties by agreeing to settlement terms before the court of law).

The results of the preventive program in Bhiwandi  have been visually impressive. There has been no outbreak of communal violence of the type seen in 1984 and frequently earlier, in Bhiwandi, despite the tense situations of 1992 and after. Though development schemes of the government in the area would also have contributed to the peace, the police-community contact program has surely added considerable contribution to the communal amity in the area. Similarly, the ‘tanta-mukti’ scheme for complaints’ resolution in villages may also have prevented crime by slowing down the social conflict arising due to lack of timely justice in individual complaints.

The above are only two examples of tackling problems in the bud. Most police station jurisdictions would have one significant area for such work, in a lesser or greater measure, but due to a lopsided emphasis on other police functions like detection of crime or keeping order(both done as post-facto activities after the event), the preventive aspect of police working(which can be quite creative) gets virtually no attention and funding in police budgets.

So, if police is to be seen as people friendly and not a constantly confrontational force vis a vis people, which to my mind, would be the desirable situation in any free, democratic country, preventive policing should be stressed as a critical function of every local police unit. Locally relevant preventive policing schemes require to be thought out by the local police structure, based on the predominant local problem and such schemes should be funded and their performance audited periodically by governments to maintain continuity.